Cellular Memory

Elizabeth Thomson

Dates: April 2018 - Dec 2021

For over three decades, Elizabeth Thomson’s art has engaged with issues to do with science, imagination, culture and, increasingly, what it means to live in the South Pacific region in the 21st century. Cellular Memory presents some of the most seductive and lyrical, yet often perplexing, works produced in New Zealand during that period. The works also speak of such timely concerns as global warming, over-fishing of oceans, pollution and environmental degradation. Thomson asks fundamental questions such as: How does humanity fit within the broader world of nature; and to what extent are we are a part of, or distinct from, our environment? Rather than offer simple answers, her works elicit feelings, states of being, reminding us of P. A. Tomory’s assertion that ‘sensation not fact is the stimulant of the true visionary’.

The Exhibition

Cellular Memory has been curated by Gregory O’Brien. The exhibition is comprised of 22 works ranging in a variety of compositions (multiples) and mediums. See website images and publication for full scope of the artworks on offer.
Several of the works are sensitive to gallery space dynamics and require the artist to attend and participate in the installation. This expense is covered in the exhibition tour fee. From experience it is estimated that at least three handlers are required for a 4-5 day installation period. In particular the works The Fearless Five Hundred (bronze fish) and Invitation to Openness—Substantive and Transitive States (bronze moths) require careful considered placement.

Size requirement for the exhibition is currently 150 linear metres
but the full composition of the show at each venue is negotiable.

Public Programmes

Elizabeth Thomson is available to carry out artist talks and other related engagements at the conclusion of the installation. Exhibition curator Gregory O’Brien is essential to this aspect of the exhibition experience and will also attend and support particular events. This expense is covered in the exhibition tour fee.

About the Artist

Elizabeth Thomson (born in Auckland, 1956) is a sculptor/installation artist, whose work often engages imaginatively with the Pacific region. In her early twenties, she lived on the Christmas Islands for six months and her experiences from that time continue to shape her artistic life. Thomson’s work also has strong connections with biology, physics and other areas of science.


The exhibition is accompanied hard cover 80 page full colour publication with contributions from Gregory O’Brien, Lloyd Jones and Jenny Bornholdt.

Messages of support for the tour

‘Working at the forefront of eco-aesthetics in Aotearoa, Elizabeth Thomson’s work is ambitious and understated. For over thirty years her thought-provoking images have zoomed between micro and macro examinations of natural forms. Her great skill lies in her ability to allude to natural realms by deploying innovative materials to create an elegance of form. As an artist, she makes it her business to draw attention to the patterns in nature – from massed moths to watery waves – and its astonishing beauty. Creating environments that are responsive to light, she revels in making art which seduces the viewer into a sensory experience. Recently she has turned her attention to contemplating our near future of intensified global warming, desertification, acidification of the seas with the corollary precipitation of the extinction of species. Now, with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels a third higher than pre-industrial levels and growing unchecked, her work has never been more urgently important’. 
Linda Tyler

‘Thomson is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s leading contemporary artists with major exhibitions across this nation and internationally. With a long and impressive exhibition history and list of achievements under her belt, she continues to push her practice in new and experimental ways. This constant pushing of media and art practice is something that sets her apart from many of her peers. Thomson never allows her practice to sit in one space for too long, it is constantly evolving and morphing into new forms and areas of practice.
Conceptually, Thomson’s works over the past decade have taken a strong environmental interest and this new series continues this investigation on a molecular scale. This interaction between the micro and the macro, between art and science, is increasingly important in the age of globalisation and climate change. In exploring how small local phenomenon are impacted as a result of larger global phenomenon happening elsewhere in the world, Thomson shows us how artists operating at a high international level can become a voice for Aotearoa and the Pacific on the world stage’.
Reuben Friend